Research Article

Socially Engaged Art, Post-Truth and the Monumentalising of Democracy


In 2021, for the first time, all the nominees for the Turner Prize were socially engaged art (SEA) collectives. The groups all ’democratised’ their practices by relinquishing their authorial control to non-artists. Framed by the prestige of the Turner Prize, this relinquishing of control, through collaborative actions with various communities, was lauded as ethically meritorious, because of its egalitarian and non-hierarchical nature. We argue that behind the growing institutional success of SEA lies a tension between its ’goodness’ as a necessity based on a model of authentic practice, and the context of ’post-truth’ that informs its rejection of ’artistic expertise’ in favour of egalitarian processes. However, we contend that it is not the processes themselves, but the monumentalising of democracy and equality that brings SEA into the domain of post-truth. We conclude that SEA must retain a dialectical tension between equality and the production of truth as a cultural value: a dialectic which involves the careful reinstatement of artistic authorship and a sincerer vision of its political ambitions and signification.


2023 (1)

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